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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a look at the issue of health care in american urban environments as told in of this year's most acclaimed documentaries, "the waiting room." peter nicks decided to chronicle the daily workings of an oakland emergency room, creating a stark picture of what 24 hours is like in an inner-city pr -- e.r. we are glad you have joined us. a conversation with peter nicks coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: the issue of health care has been a constant conversation in this country over the past few years, amplified during this campaign season. behind the politics of health care is the reality of what many americans face, especially in inner cities. peter nicks decided to chronicle a day in a life of an open emergency room. the film is called "the waiting room" and is being called one of the best documentary projects of the year. it is playing in select cities
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across the country. here are some scenes from the "the waiting room." you have to wait for that -- >> you have to wait for the same day as an emergency services. no limits. >> the emergency department is completely full. the beds are full. nobody moves. >> i cannot look through the cracks. >> call up here and ask him. >> i was just laid off my job in march. >> heart rate is really high. >> i have never had anything happen to me since my in vincible 20s. >> is ok. i will not go until you are ready. >> mail from a gunshot wound -- male, gunshot wound.
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>> this numbness sends a write- down. >> if you are diagnosed with a stroke, you are set right out the door. >> we are an institution of last resort. >> stay with me. you want to see the doctor today? >> we are putting seven in three, three in the hallway. >> this is my first time in the hospital. >> congratulations. always a first. >> thank god for them. they should be back together. >> sit with me. >> i heard what happened. >> you heard what happened?
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tavis: why would a hospital, public or private, let you in with cameras to see any or all of this? why would they let you and? >> they took a huge risk in letting a documentary crew into this hospital. i will give a lot of credit to roy lester -- lassiter, who understood that that transparency was important, not just that his institution, but around the country as we are trying to figure out what is going on in our health care systems as it relates to our community and how can we fix that? he sensed the story that i want to try to tell. we were able to build a trust and he understood that i was more interested in telling the story of the community's struggle and the institutions struggle than i was in doing an ex's on the hospital, per se.
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tavis: tell me what you think he wanted you to see, wanted the viewer to see through your work about this particular hospital. >> the story that people are familiar with at highland, not just in oakland but communities around the country, baltimore, the bronx, boston, news at 11:00, when somebody comes in shot. that is the dominant possession -- perception that the community has about our public hospitals. in the debate -- in the beginning, we communicated that we want to tell a deeper story and go beyond the headlines and beyond the statistics, particularly as it relates to the uninsured and the community that represents the uninsured. that was the starting point of that trust that building. tavis: what do you want? what did you have in mind?
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what did you want the viewer to see about what these hospitals in the inner cities are up against every day? >> the antenna first went up for me, my wife and i first came out of graduate school, the same grad with school at uc berkeley. i came out with journalism and she came out with speech. she would come home with stories of her patients that were quite remarkable and surprising to me. one of them i remember. there was this guy and he was a drummer in this village in east africa and he was a legend, like bob marley. he was in the hospital and people came, they brought food, brought their drums, they would break out into song. this guy was just a statistic, just a headline, somebody that no one would ever get to know. that got me thinking about how many more people there were like this guy, whose stories were never told. outside the context of the
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health-care debate, i was interested in the stories of the community and what they were going through day-to-day. that began the exploration and development of the idea that eventually became the film. tavis: i was fascinated when i got a chance to look at it. you basically follow for five different patients throughout the 24-hour period. it is a day in the life of this hospital. you follow these patients as they come in and what their experience and journey is like. how did you develop a relationship with these patients for them to let you tell the story of their experience? >> the film was preceded by this digital storytelling project. i workshop via biya baran institute in san francisco, a workshop that takes documentary's and three envisions them as a trans- medium digital projects. the notion was, at this moment
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in time, the health care debate was getting so noisy. the people on the front lines, their voices were not really being represented in that conversation. i was getting e-mails from whoever sang, share your story, tell your health care story, of lodi video. -- upload a video. i suspected that people were not doing that. we wanted to sit down and talk with people and meet with people. our question was, what are you waiting for? that led to profound and poignant moments of expression. the question was not, what do you think about health care reform, what do you think about this hospital, people just wanted to share who they were. they won the dignity in that moment. when you walk into a public hospital waiting room, if you lose your dignity. we wanted to capture that. that really set the tone for the film, this notion that, let's
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allow this community a voice and tried to step back ourselves and not editorialize and just allow the lives of these people to come forward. tavis: health is as personal and issue as there is. health is personal, our religion, our faith is a personal issue. people do not open up easily about those issues. they want to know what the process was. that is why i asked that. you made a statement that is worthy of going back to. this notion that people lose their dignity when i walk into a public hospital waiting room. most americans have never sat in a public waiting room at a hospital. what do you mean when you say that walking in there oftentimes cost one his or her dignity? >> i remember the first time i went to thailand. we were rebranded at the -- to
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highland. we work rebranded -- we were rearended at the 580. i remember thinking, i am going to be here for a while. there are more pressing issues than me. you are being forgotten. nobody is focusing on you. it is not that the people do not care. the system does not have the resources to handle the volume of people. when you walk into a public hospital waiting room, sometimes for low acuity primary care health care, you are dealing with people coming in the back door who are shot, in car accidents, have had strokes or heart attacks. it is that dual resource problem of an emergency room trying to provide primary care to an entire community and deal with emergencies that results in a really long wait times and the sense that you are a statistic
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or number. take a number. that is dis-empowering for people. people feel helpless. in that moment. in the macro, there is the sense that this system is not working for me, there is the apathy. there is the sense that nobody cares about me. we got to understand that in terms of talking to people and saying, would you like to share your story? people would ask why we're doing it. we would say, if you share your story, somebody in washington could hear you. sometimes, people say, nobody in washington cares about me. that sense of apathy and frustration really came through with what we want -- with what we want to try to do. we wanted to allow people know that we were listening and to connect their story to the outside world. tavis: mr. obama wants to return
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to all -- to washington, specifically to the oval office. mr. romney wants to deny him. there has been a great debate about obama care. the president says he now likes the name obamacare, so i will call it obamacare. there was a great debate. there was a suggestion that we do not need obamacare. he went on to suggest that if something happens to you and they rush to to the hospital, they are not going to turn you away. they are going to be there for you. for those who actually see public hospitals or our system in that way, that is, something tragic and traumatic happens to you, the hospital will not turn you away, what do you say to mitt romney or people who view that system in that way?
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>> when we started developing the approach to the film, ultimately, the storytelling project set that tone. it was going to be and a political film and we were not and have -- we were not going to have that narration or text. that decision turned out to be a powerful decision. what we decided to do was train the lens on the waiting room, follow people during their day- to-day, navigating without access to the health care that the rest of the country had. give a real sense of what that feels like, what it sounds like, what it looks like. when romney came on 60 minutes, i was looking for is number. you know, i actually made a film about what that looks like. not saying one way or the other, getting political about it, but at this moment in time, we need
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to understand what that really means. it was a bit serendipitous. as an independent filmmaker, it is a big task to try to distribute your film and get it out there. we are trying to do that. nobody from the romney or obama campaign called the because i do not think people know about the film. the blinders are on and their focus on getting reelected. this film represents zooming out. behind these contentious debates and arguments, there are actual people and this is what they're going through. tavis: i am glad you mentioned this. i said one of these debates, it was 60 minutes. i am glad you said that for the record. to your point now, that the obama people had not contacted you and you were trying to put faces to what this debate has
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been about with regards to health care in this country, why is it that you think a film can make a difference? michael moore is a friend of mine. we all know his project, "sicko." a number of projects where people have tried to invent the conversation about the health care debate in this country. what makes you think your project can make a difference in the debate, particularly given that your hospital is a public hospital that is so often there for people of color who live in these communities? i was glad that you saw a bunch of white patients. it was not just black people. when you think of public hospital, you think color-coded. why do you think a project like this, in this contentious debate, matters? >> there were a couple of things i was trying to do with the film. in some ways, it was not just a film about health care but about the community and revealing it
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in three dimensions. when you walk into the waiting room, it is a remarkable stage, a turnstile of humanity. in my mind, it broke all kinds of stereotypes that i had, not just the patients, but people providing remarkable care without enough resources. i really believe that a story intimately told without comment can be a very partial agent for change. it can be a very powerful political statement in and of itself, particularly in the health-care debate, where these voices of people are not being represented. polemic films that shake the trees are vital in our country, too, and serve a purpose. that film had been made and would be made. the style, the film making in terms of letting you in, in a
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way, replicating that experience of sitting down next to a hospital waiting room and over hearing their stories, is important because it is a step towards building empathy, which, to some degree, we have an empathy crisis in this country where we divide each other ideology -- ideologically and wheat pit ourselves against one another. it was really important to remind people that we are all in this together. uninsured or not, you can lose your job tomorrow. that woman in film lost her job. that was definitely something that we were trying to accomplish. tavis: the think this could actually matter? >> i like to call myself an idealist. of course i believe they matter. that is why i committed the last several years of my life trying to get this film not just made
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it but distributed and heard. i think we are distracted. we are so distracted by the minutia of the battles that we forget about the soldiers. these people are the soldiers, not just the patients, but the caregivers on the front lines. the premise of my film, to some degree, is that the system is broken. the system may be broken, but the people are not. there are people at the heart of this thing that we all know that our us, whether it is ourselves, our neighbors, our kids bus driver, what have you. in that waiting room, you are going to see somebody you love or yourself. communicating that in an intimate way can create change because it can create the motion, connection, that framework. it can refrain the discussion around health care reform that
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has become so divisive and ideological. tavis: this project allows us to see the content of what happens or does not happen. we see the content of what happens in these public hospitals. the broader context of what these public hospitals are up against is a budget cuts, and here in los angeles, every night. a great debate some years back about whether or not it would come through, come back on line or stay online. in chicago, they have had the debate -- your project is about a particular hospital in oakland. across the country, in inner cities, these hospitals are up against the wall. the budget cuts and political decisions are closing some of these hospitals. others are on the brink of being
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closed. i say that as background ask this question -- what happens with all of the drama and difficulty of what happens inside highland every day? what happens if these waiting rooms no longer exist? what happens if they are not there? what happens if they disappear? >> you have seen a little bit of this with how the -- how society has dealt with the mentally ill. closing down a lot of facilities. they are out on the streets. they are going to show up on your doorstep. that is the thing that is always fascinated me with how some people approach this idea. well, people who are going into these public hospitals are wasting taxpayer dollars. if we did not care for them, where would they go? the vulnerability to illness, we are all vulnerable. we are all human.
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we all share that in common. this notion that you can brush aside that reality seems like something that you cannot do. i was just in houston and they have the san jose clinic, run by the catholic church, they provide free health care for the uninsured. those would have to pop up. you cannot just create those overnight. entire states, texas and florida, are talking about shutting down the system. something has got to rise up. i am not an expert in that world, but it would be certainly a crisis given what it already looks like in our public hospitals today with the volumes they are dealing with, the complexity of providing continuity of care to communities, the juggling
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between primary-care and emergencies that you see unfolding every day in the waiting room. they are already at capacity. i cannot imagine how that would be a good thing. tavis: as i see this footage, let me circle back and close by talking about the care givers. how do these caregivers, knowing what they are up against every day, knowing that the dignity and the humanity of these patients are challenged, contested every day, how do these caregivers sustain themselves? >> this is a really remarkable place. a lot of the staff, nurses assistants, lvn's, support staff is from that community. they were born in highland and have a deep connection to the community. that is family.
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you care for your family. the residents who come from some of the best medical schools in the country, because you get the best training at a place like high lead, -- like highland, they come from harvard, yale, stanford, they grow from the training and you see it. dr. white, you saw him in the film, you saw him grow as a human being and doctor. it was a profound transformation. they believe in what they're doing and believe in providing the care for those communities. they know that the people have nowhere else to go. it is hard. it is like a sport. you imagine getting hit. these linebackers and quarterbacks are getting hit. these doctors and nurses are getting hit emotionally every day with the weight of the entire community, whether it is a young child being killed, a family has to be informed,
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seeing someone repeatedly coming back, the frequent-flier is, drug addicts coming back over and over again, but not giving up because you do not know where that person has been the day before. you do not know where that person is going to be the day after. if you can give them one more shot. they believe that, they internalize that. the institution, the community engenders that sense of purpose. it is quite remarkable. it was surprising to me as i got to know a lot of the caregivers. tavis: the project is called "the waiting room." i suspect that as awards season gets closer, you will start hearing that name. great that you on the program. congratulations. that is our program for tonight. i will see you back here next, on pbs. until next time, thanks for watching and keep the faith. >> the third one is the one i am
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most concerned about. we will probably have to go to the o.r. first. >> blood pressure. >> good. >> when we get the ring down from the paramedics, 12-15 people stop what they're doing to focus on this one trauma. if several traumas role in at the same time, that is a huge impact on the rest of the waiting room. people with legitimate, serious illnesses get bumped for the trauma service. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with four-time olympic gold medalist and u.s. track star allyson felix. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do.
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walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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Tavis Smiley
PBS October 25, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm PDT

News/Business. Interviews with newsmakers, politicians and celebrities. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Peter Nicks 3, Washington 3, Obama 3, Oakland 3, Tavis Smiley 2, Pbs 2, Los Angeles 2, Highland 2, Smiley 1, Rearended 1, Rebranded 1, Lvn 1, News 1, Michael Moore 1, Bob Marley 1, Biya Baran 1, Mr. Romney 1, Lassiter 1, Roy Lester 1, Romney 1
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Duration 00:30:00
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Audio Cocec ac3
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Sponsor Internet Archive
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on 10/25/2012